Consider our water system

water tap

This post originally appeared on TaylorNoakes.com, republished with permission from the author

Everyone’s favourite evil multi-national corporation, British Petroleum (BP) has been given the green-light to dump large quantities of mercury directly into Lake Michigan, about 20 times over federal limits for the Great Lakes.

Now here’s where things get interesting (to me at least).

The Great Lakes empty into the Atlantic Ocean principally via the Saint Lawrence River.

To say we Montrealers get our drinking water from the Saint Lawrence is to say the very least; it further sustains the massive agricultural plain that Montreal happens to find itself in the middle of. In layman terms, it’s fucking important we don’t contaminate it anymore than it currently is.

I’d like to know the state of our water treatment plants. The recent city-wide boil water advisory lasted about a day and affected 1.3 of Montreal’s 1.8 million residents. It was caused by routine maintenance.

Sediment was stirred up from the bottom of the Atwater Treatment Plant when water levels unexpectedly dropped by a considerable degree. It took officials a day to figure out what happened, though in the end they realized there was no danger of contamination.

That was over a month ago – I still have too much bottled water.

Generally speaking we don’t have much in the way of water problems: occasional boil water advisories and seasonal watering bans happen and it’s impossible to completely get away from this. But we also know that most of our water and sewerage pipes are old, very old in fact, and have been known to burst, rather dramatically, in wintertime. Not to mention the fact that we have to use large amounts of chlorine to treat our water, all the while dumping raw sewerage back into the river.

aquaduct_mtl

With all this mind, it seems that we have managed to figure out a solution to a problem we’re contributing to, but with an infrastructure that might not be able to handle any new problems. Like contamination by mercury, or worse, heavy crude from Western Canada.

Mercury contamination led to birth defects amongst the James Bay Cree (not to mention the highest mercury rates amongst a First Nations community) as a consequence of the flooding of 11 000 square kilometers of the Taiga.

And consider the kind of damage that could occur with a burst pipeline anywhere in the Greater Montreal region: it’s not just the contaminated soil, but the potential for contamination of our aquifer and all the numerous waterways all around us. We’re on an island after all.

It’s a difficult situation; we would doubtless benefit from Western Canadian oil flowing to our city. It could result in the redevelopment of the East End refineries, not to mention likely result in improvements and the potential aggrandizement of our port facilities. And all of this means more jobs and money.

But private interests simply can’t be trusted to develop fail-safe pipelines. All too often they bend and break environmental rules to cut overhead costs.

And any new potential industrial development throughout the Great Lakes region bears with it the potential for new environmental dangers. Some of these problems are completely out of our control, such as the State of Indiana authorizing massive dumps of mercury into Lake Michigan.

But there are local measures that could be taken to dramatically improve the quality and durability of our water treatment and water distribution systems, not to mention the natural aquifer.

There’s an interesting intersection between natural water treatment and the maintenance and development of green spaces. Consider, as an example, Riparian buffers, which use ‘forested waterways’ to provide naturally treated water into agricultural lands (the presence of so much green also shades the water to reduce natural water evaporation. Natural beaches and swamps can further assist in natural water treatment.

Up until now I feel we’ve benefitted from these natural methods without doing much, if anything, to stimulate them. We’d be wise to consider the biological, as well as mechanical means to treat and distribute water systems throughout the metropolitan region.

But despite the universal necessity of water, our North American ways have made it that few politicians could successfully campaign on a ‘clean water’ platform without being uselessly labelled a environmentalist fringe candidate. We think water pollution is something that either happens in a developing country, or else happened here many moons ago.

Besides, you can buy bottled water anywhere, right?

 

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